Judges 1 – Victory and Defeat in the Promised Land
A. Continuing victory in Israel.
1. (1a) After the death of Joshua.
Now after the death of Joshua
a. Now after the death of Joshua: In this period of the Judges, Israel lost the critical next link in its godly leadership. Moses was the great leader used by God to bring them out of Egypt; Joshua was Moses’ assistant and the great leader used by God to bring them into the land of promise. But Joshua appointed no leader after him to guide the whole nation. They were in a critical place where they had to trust God more intensely than they ever had before.
i. God gives wonderful human leaders to His work on this earth, and it is always difficult for God’s people when those human leaders pass from the scene. In such a situation, we may live in the past, wishing that leader were still with us.
b. After the death of Joshua: During this period of the judges (lasting some 340 years), there was no standing “office” of national leadership. Israel had no king, no president, and no prime minister on earth – only God in heaven. Yet at the necessary and appropriate times God brought forth a leader for the nation. For the most part these leaders would rise up, do his (or her) job, and then return to their obscurity. This required that the people of Israel maintain a real, abiding trust in God.
i. These national deliverers were not elected, and they didn’t come to leadership through royal succession. They were specially gifted by God for leadership in their times, and the people of God recognized and respected that gifting.
ii. When this book uses the term judge, it doesn’t mean someone who sits in a court and decides legal issues; the Hebrew word shaphat has more the idea of a heroic leader. “The Hebrew word Shophetim is derived from a word meaning to put right, and so to rule, and this is exactly what these men did.” (Morgan)
iii. The people of Israel had great obstacles. They were surrounded by people who lived in the most terrible immorality and idolatry, making a constant temptation to the same sins. The idolatrous lives of the Canaanites who lived around Israel were focused mainly on three things: money, sex, and having a relationship with God on my terms instead of God’s terms.
c. After the death of Joshua: The Book of Judges shows us a time that is sometimes confusing, difficult, and dark. For this reason, many neglect the Judges and regard this period of time as a “dark ages” of Israel’s history. Yet if we neglect this book we neglect a wonderful account of the love and graciousness of God, and how He lovingly corrects His people.
i. What we find out about man in Judges is depressing; but what we find out about God in Judges is wonderful. “On the human side, it is a story of disobedience and disaster; and on the Divine side, of continued direction and deliverance.” (Morgan)
ii. “There is, however, one light in which the whole book may be viewed, which renders it invaluable; it is a most remarkable history of the longsuffering of God towards the Israelites, in which we find the most signal instances of his justice and mercy alternately displayed; the people sinned, and were punished; they repented, and found mercy. Something of this kind we meet with in every page. And these things are written for our warning. None should presume, for God is JUST; none need despair, for God is MERCIFUL.” (Clarke)
2. (1b-2) After Joshua’s death, Israel seeks the LORD.
It came to pass that the children of Israel asked the LORD, saying, “Who shall be first to go up for us against the Canaanites to fight against them?” And the LORD said, “Judah shall go up. Indeed I have delivered the land into his hand.”
a. The children of Israel asked the LORD: Here they did the right thing – the thing Joshua would have wanted them to do. With Joshua gone, they were not left without a leader; they were simply called to a renewed trust in God.
b. And the LORD said: When Israel sought the LORD, He guided them. This is a consistent pattern through the Book of Judges. God never failed to deliver and help His people when they sought Him.
i. Jesus expressed the same idea in Luke 11:9: “So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” When we ask of God and seek Him in sincerity we should expect that He will answer us. His response may come in an unexpected way, but we should expect that it will come.
c. Judah shall go up: God directed that the tribe of Judah – the tribe that the Messiah would come from – should lead the way in this fight. Judah was also the largest and strongest tribe. In this case, God’s plan made obvious military sense as well.
i. Under the leadership of Joshua Israel had broken the back of the Canaanite’s military strength; yet it remained for each individual tribe to actually go in and possess what God had given them.
3. (3-7) Judah (with the tribe of Simeon) defeats Bezek and their king.
So Judah said to Simeon his brother, “Come up with me to my allotted territory, that we may fight against the Canaanites; and I will likewise go with you to your allotted territory.” And Simeon went with him. Then Judah went up, and the LORD delivered the Canaanites and the Perizzites into their hand; and they killed ten thousand men at Bezek. And they found Adoni-Bezek in Bezek, and fought against him; and they defeated the Canaanites and the Perizzites. Then Adoni-Bezek fled, and they pursued him and caught him and cut off his thumbs and big toes. And Adoni-Bezek said, “Seventy kings with their thumbs and big toes cut off used to gather scraps under my table; as I have done, so God has repaid me.” Then they brought him to Jerusalem, and there he died.
a. Judah said to Simeon his brother, “Come up with me”: The leaders of the tribe of Judah acted wisely here. By partnering with another tribe, the work was much easier. Here, the tribes functioned in the same way that God wants the church to function – as a body, with each part of the body helping out other parts of the body.
i. “The tribes of Judah and Simeon were blood-brothers (Genesis 29:33-35) and are uniformly depicted as acting in the closest relationship.” (Cundall)
b. The LORD delivered the Canaanites and the Perizzites into their hand: Seeking the LORD, obeying His guidance, and working together as a body always produces great results. Their success was plain to see: the LORD delivered all their enemies into their hands.
c. They killed ten thousand men at Bezek: This place where the conquered was called Bezek and the leader of this city was Adoni-Bezek, which means “Lord of Lightning.” This was an enemy with a fearful name, but Judah and Simeon defeated him none the less.
i. And they found Adoni-Bezek in Bezek: The word found in this verse expresses a hostile encounter. The armies of Judah and Simeon didn’t just stumble over Adoni-Bezek.
ii. Their punishment of Adoni-Bezek may seem cruel, yet we see that it was simply justice in its truest sense. He had done this same thing to seventy kings; so now he had his own toes and fingers cut off.
iii. The punishment made Adoni-Bezek worthless as a warrior; he could trouble Israel no more as a military man. “It was a custom among those Romans who did not like a military life, to cut off their own thumbs, that they might not be called into the army. Sometimes the parents cut off the thumbs of their children, that they might not be called into the army.” (Clarke).
iv. We also see Judah and Simeon acting in an unselfish manner. They fought a battle in territory that did not directly belong to them. The city of Bezek was far to the north of Judah’s tribal lands.
4. (8-20) Judah’s victories in the southern part of the land given to Israel.
Now the children of Judah fought against Jerusalem and took it; they struck it with the edge of the sword and set the city on fire. And afterward the children of Judah went down to fight against the Canaanites who dwelt in the mountains, in the South, and in the lowland. Then Judah went against the Canaanites who dwelt in Hebron. (Now the name of Hebron was formerly Kirjath Arba.) And they killed Sheshai, Ahiman, and Talmai. From there they went against the inhabitants of Debir. (The name of Debir was formerly Kirjath Sepher.) Then Caleb said, “Whoever attacks Kirjath Sepher and takes it, to him I will give my daughter Achsah as wife.” And Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother, took it; so he gave him his daughter Achsah as wife. Now it happened, when she came to him, that she urged him to ask her father for a field. And she dismounted from her donkey, and Caleb said to her, “What do you wish?” So she said to him, “Give me a blessing; since you have given me land in the South, give me also springs of water.” And Caleb gave her the upper springs and the lower springs. Now the children of the Kenite, Moses’ father-in-law, went up from the City of Palms with the children of Judah into the Wilderness of Judah, which lies in the South near Arad; and they went and dwelt among the people. And Judah went with his brother Simeon, and they attacked the Canaanites who inhabited Zephath, and utterly destroyed it. So the name of the city was called Hormah. Also Judah took Gaza with its territory, Ashkelon with its territory, and Ekron with its territory. So the LORD was with Judah. And they drove out the mountaineers, but they could not drive out the inhabitants of the lowland, because they had chariots of iron. And they gave Hebron to Caleb, as Moses had said. Then he expelled from there the three sons of Anak.
a. Judah fought against Jerusalem and took it: Here it is recorded that the city of Jerusalem fell to Judah. It was occupied for a time (Adoni-Bezek was taken there and died there), but later fell back to the Jebusites (see Judges 1:21). Under the leadership of King David Israel conquered the city again some 400 years later (2 Samuel 5:6-10).
i. “The city of Jerusalem is one of the oldest cities in the world, having been occupied almost continually for a period of 5,000 years.” (Cundall)
b. Then Judah went against the Canaanites who dwelt in Hebron: Judah also conquered Hebron, and the city was given to faithful Caleb and his family (see Joshua 15:13-19).
i. Hebron was the ancient city of Abraham and the city which discouraged the ten unfaithful spies from taking the promised land in Moses’ day because of the Anakim which lived there (Numbers 13:22-23).
ii. Cundall notes that Judges 1:9 describes the three major geographic divisions of Israel:
· The mountains, or more literally the hill country, “which describes the mountainous regions between Jerusalem and Hebron.”
· The South, also known as the Negev, which is “the semi-arid area between Hebron and Kadesh-barnea.”
· The lowland, sometimes called the Shelphelah from the Hebrew word used here. This “is the region of foot-hills running north and south between the coastal plain and the central mountain range.”
c. Give me a blessing: Charles Spurgeon preached a wonderful sermon on Judges 1:12-15 titled, Aschsah’s Asking, A Pattern of Prayer. Spurgeon showed how the request from a daughter (Aschsah) to a father (Caleb) gives us a “parable of prayer.”
i. Aschsah was a good example because she thought about what she wanted before she went to her father. Before you pray, know what you need before God. She came to God with a very definite request that had been considered beforehand. “Think what you are going to ask before you begin to pray, and then pray like business men. This woman does not say to her father, ‘Father, listen to me,’ and then utter some pretty little oration about nothing; but she knows what she is going to ask for, and why she is going to ask it.” (Spurgeon)
ii. Aschsah was a good example because she asked for help with her request, asking her husband – she urged him to ask her father for a field. “A friend, some time ago, said to me, ‘My dear pastor, whenever I cannot pray for myself, and there are times when I feel shut up about myself, I always take to praying for you: ‘God bless him, at any rate!’ and I have not long been praying for you before I begin to feel able to pray for myself.’ I should like to come in for many of those odd bits of prayer. Whenever any of you get stuck in the mud, do pray for me. It will do you good, and I shall get a blessing.” (Spurgeon)
iii. Aschsah was a good example because she knew it was her father she asked.
iv. Aschsah was a good example because she went humbly, yet eagerly.
v. Aschsah’s prayer was a good example because her father asked her what she wanted. God will ask us the same thing and we should know what we want.
vi. Aschsah’s prayer was a good example because she shows that we should actually ask for what we want before God. It is a pleasure for God to hear you ask.
vii. Aschsah’s prayer was a good example because of what she simply prayed. Her prayer was, “give me a blessing.”
viii. Aschsah’s prayer was a good example because she mingled gratitude with her petition (you have given me land in the South).
ix. Aschsah’s prayer was a good example because she used past blessing as a reason to ask for more.
x. Aschsah’s prayer was a good example because she realized that what she had been given before was of no use without continual springs of water. “What is the use of the hearers if there be not the power of the Holy Spirit going with the Word to bless them? Give me springs of water.” (Spurgeon)
xi. Aschsah’s prayer was a good example because her father gave her what she asked.
xii. Aschsah’s prayer was a good example because her father gave to her in large measure.
xiii. Aschsah’s prayer was a good example because her father was not critical of the request in the slightest way.
d. The city of Palms: This was another name for the city of Jericho. The Kenites went from there to Arad, a city out in the Judean wilderness, west of Masada and the Dead Sea. Zephath isn’t too far from there; Gaza and Ashkelon were out towards the coast and later became Philistine strongholds.
i. Cundall believes that the city of Palms was another city further south: “The city of palm trees elsewhere indicates Jericho (Judges 3:13), but that identification is ruled out here by the context. Possibly it was located at the southern end of the Dead Sea.”
e. They had chariots of iron: As impressive as Judah’s victory was it was nevertheless incomplete. They could not defeat nations that had the latest military technology: chariots of iron.
i. “Strange! Were the iron chariots too strong for Omnipotence?” (Clarke)
ii. This spoke more to Judah’s lack of full trust in God than it did to Canaanite military superiority. Chariots were no problem for God’s people when they were trusting God (see Exodus 14:7-29, Joshua 11:1-8, and 1 Kings 20:21). Their attitude should have been like that reflected in Psalm 20:7: Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; but we will remember the name of the LORD our God.
iii. “If they had believed in God, and gone forth in his name, the horses would soon have fled, as indeed they did when God gave his people faith. When Barak led the way with Deborah, then they smote Jabin, who had nine hundred chariots of iron… the imperfection of their faith lay in this, as it may do in yours, my brethren, — that they believed one promise of God and did not believe another. There is a kind of faith which is strong in one direction, but utter weakness if tried in other ways.” (Spurgeon)
iv. “An unconverted person is here who has been thinking of coming to Christ, but he says: ‘I cannot give up all my sins. One of them I must retain: all the rest I can leave, but that one is invincible, for it has chariots of iron. I cannot drive it out,’ That sin must die, or you will perish by it. Depend upon it, that sin which you would save from slaughter will slaughter you.” (Spurgeon)
f. Then he expelled from there the three sons of Anak: Caleb’s victory over the sons of Anak shows what a trusting Israel could accomplish. The sons of Anak were large men and fierce warriors (Numbers 13:33, Deuteronomy 9:2), yet with God’s help Caleb defeated them (as is also recorded in Joshua 15:13-14).
i. “Yet, as if to rebuke them, they had a singular incident set before them for the vindication of God’s power, and of that we read in the twentieth verse. Caleb, that grand old man, who still lived on, the sole survivor of all who came out of Egypt, had obtained Hebron as his portion, and he went up in his old age, when his bones were sore and set, and slew the three sons of Anak, even three mighty giants, and took possession of their city. In this way the Lord’s power was trusted and vindicated from the slur which Judah had brought upon it.” (Spurgeon)
ii. “I will not speak of Caleb, for you will tell me, ‘Ah, he was an old, old man, and belonged to another generation. He was just going off the scene; we do not wonder that he did great things.’ Ay, but he had a nephew, one Othniel, a young man…The young hero stood forward, and went up to the fortress, and took the city, and passed it over to his uncle’s hands, and received the promised reward. Oh yes, and we have seen raised up-and shall see it more and more young heroes who have been self-denying, self-distrustful, inconsiderate of themselves, who have been willing for Christ’s sake to be anything or nothing, and God has been with them, and the power of the Most High has rested upon them.” (Spurgeon)
B. Incomplete victory and defeat.
1. (21) The tribe of Benjamin does not take possession of Jerusalem.
But the children of Benjamin did not drive out the Jebusites who inhabited Jerusalem; so the Jebusites dwell with the children of Benjamin in Jerusalem to this day.
a. The children of Benjamin did not drive out the Jebusites: This was a case where the battle had already been won (Judges 1:8); the tribe of Benjamin simply had to enter into what was already theirs. It would certainly take effort, but the critical battle was over. Jerusalem belonged to them.
b. So the Jebusites dwell with the children of Benjamin in Jerusalem to this day: Up until the time of the writer of the Book of Judges, the tribe of Benjamin failed to cast out the Jebusites and therefore lived in constant military and spiritual danger.
2. (22-26) The house of Joseph conquers the city of Bethel.
And the house of Joseph also went up against Bethel, and the LORD was with them. So the house of Joseph sent men to spy out Bethel. (The name of the city was formerly Luz.) And when the spies saw a man coming out of the city, they said to him, “Please show us the entrance to the city, and we will show you mercy.” So he showed them the entrance to the city, and they struck the city with the edge of the sword; but they let the man and all his family go. And the man went to the land of the Hittites, built a city, and called its name Luz, which is its name to this day.
a. The house of Joseph: This is an interesting (and somewhat rare) combining of the two tribes that came from Joseph (Ephraim and Manasseh) into one group, the house of Joseph.
b. And the LORD was with them: We might credit the victory to their effective use of military espionage; but the real reason was because the LORD was with them.
c. But they let the man and all his family go: They seemed to use the events surrounding Rahab and the conquering of Jericho as a pattern (Joshua 3 and 6), and a successful pattern at that.
3. (27-29) Manasseh and Ephraim fail to drive out all the Canaanites.
However, Manasseh did not drive out the inhabitants of Beth Shean and its villages, or Taanach and its villages, or the inhabitants of Dor and its villages, or the inhabitants of Ibleam and its villages, or the inhabitants of Megiddo and its villages; for the Canaanites were determined to dwell in that land. And it came to pass, when Israel was strong, that they put the Canaanites under tribute, but did not completely drive them out. Nor did Ephraim drive out the Canaanites who dwelt in Gezer; so the Canaanites dwelt in Gezer among them.
a. The Canaanites were determined to dwell in the land: At first there were pockets of Canaanites that these tribes were unable to push out of the land. But when the tribes eventually grew strong enough, they compromised with those Canaanites and thought they could use them to their advantage (they put the Canaanites under tribute).
i. “The story as here given reveals that whereas the work began in earnest, it gradually weakened. The Lord was with Judah and victories resulted. The Lord was with Joseph and Beth-el was taken. Manasseh and Ephraim and all the rest weakened in the work and Canaanites were left in possession.” (Morgan)
b. Did not completely drive them out: In the same way, when someone first begins their Christian life, they may not be strong enough in the LORD to deal with all the things they see that need changing; yet as they grow in the LORD, they must not slack in dealing with those areas. We never are to make a peace treaty with our sins; instead, be determined to drive them out.
i. “The one point that Israel should have borne in mind was that they had no right there. The land was not theirs, it had become Israel’s. And moreover, God was prepared to drive them out; so that his people would have no fighting to do, but only to chase a flying foe.” (Meyer)
ii. Gezer didn’t belong to Israel until it was given to Solomon by Pharaoh (1 Kings 9:16).
4. (30) The tribe of Zebulun compromises and accommodates the Canaanites, putting them under tribute.
Nor did Zebulun drive out the inhabitants of Kitron or the inhabitants of Nahalol; so the Canaanites dwelt among them, and were put under tribute.
a. Nor did Zebulun drive out the inhabitants: Each tribe had its own responsibility and its own battles to fight. In their particular battle, the tribe of Zebulun failed to take all that God had portioned for them.
b. So the Canaanites dwelt among them, and were put under tribute: The people of Zebulun thought they could make their incomplete obedience work to their advantage, especially economically. They failed to appreciate that the Canaanites who dwelt among them would eventually bring them into both social and spiritual crisis.
i. Because the crisis was not immediate, it was easy to think that it was not real. Yet it was certain, and only a trusting obedience to God could spare them the later cycle of crisis that marks the Book of Judges.
5. (31-32) The tribe of Asher fails in taking full possession of their land.
Nor did Asher drive out the inhabitants of Acco or the inhabitants of Sidon, or of Ahlab, Achzib, Helbah, Aphik, or Rehob. So the Asherites dwelt among the Canaanites, the inhabitants of the land; for they did not drive them out.
a. Nor did Asher drive out: The tribe of Asher also failed to take what God had apportioned for them. Each tribe who failed made it easier for the other tribes to also fail.
b. So the Asherites dwelt among the Canaanites: Of the people of Zebulun we read that the Canaanites dwelt among them (Judges 1:30). Yet in Asher it was even worse; it was the Asherites who dwelt among the Canaanites. They suffered a worse degree of social and spiritual declension.
i. “Whilst most of the tribes were able to occupy at least some part of their allotted territory, the tribe of Asher seems to have failed completely to dislodge the Canaanites.” (Cundall)
6. (33) The tribe of Naphtali compromises and accommodates the Canaanites, putting them under tribute.
Nor did Naphtali drive out the inhabitants of Beth Shemesh or the inhabitants of Beth Anath; but they dwelt among the Canaanites, the inhabitants of the land. Nevertheless the inhabitants of Beth Shemesh and Beth Anath were put under tribute to them.
a. Nor did Naphtali drive out the inhabitants: The tribe of Naphtali found in difficult to counter the trend of the other tribes. The defeat of one affects the condition of others.
i. God never intended for Israel to conquer the land of Canaan easily; He never intended it to happen quickly. Exodus 23:29-30 and Deuteronomy 7:22-24 both say that God intended to give them the land little by little. Though God planned for Israel to take the land through constant trust in Him and frequent battles, they failed to do this and therefore did not drive out the inhabitants. It was almost as if Israel said, “If we can’t have it easy, then we don’t want it at all.”
b. They dwelt among the Canaanites… Nevertheless the inhabitants of Beth Shemesh and Beth Anath were put under tribute to them: The people of Naphtali combined both facets of capitulation to the enemy. In some regions of their territory they lived under the shadow of the dominating Canaanites; in other regions they put the Canaanites under tribute to them. Both facets fell well short of God’s command and intent for the people of Israel.
7. (34-36) The tribe of Dan fails in taking full possession of their land.
And the Amorites forced the children of Dan into the mountains, for they would not allow them to come down to the valley; and the Amorites were determined to dwell in Mount Heres, in Aijalon, and in Shaalbim; yet when the strength of the house of Joseph became greater, they were put under tribute. Now the boundary of the Amorites was from the Ascent of Akrabbim, from Sela, and upward.
a. The Amorites forced the children of Dan into the mountains: Here, we see the people of God being pushed around by their enemies. This should never be the case when God’s people are walking in the strength of their God.
b. When the strength of the house of Joseph became greater, they were put under tribute: Again, instead of doing what God said should be done with these enemies (to completely drive them out), they decided to use them as they thought best; to put these enemies under tribute.
i. “This they did out of covetousness, that root of all evil, neglecting the command of God to the contrary.” (Trapp)
c. The boundary of the Amorites: The end result was that the Amorites had an appointed boundary within the inheritance of God’s people. This was an unnecessary and dangerous accommodation to the social and spiritual enemies of the people of God.
i. There is a dangerous and seductive form of pacifism in the Christian life, which ignores the reality of the spiritual battle so clearly described in Ephesians 6:10-20 and referred to by analogy in the Book of Judges. This pacifist attitude will happily make a peace with the devil that basically says, “I will not harm your interests if you leave me mostly alone.” This attitude of spiritual surrender is unacceptable for the Christian.
ii. Leon Trotsky, the infamous Communist leader said at least one correct thing: “You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.” To take an attitude of spiritual surrender is to willingly lose that war.
iii. At this period of time, the tribes of Israel at their best experienced incomplete victory; at their worst they simply surrendered to and accommodated the enemy. This makes us value the complete and glorious victory of Jesus Christ on our behalf all the more. There was nothing left incomplete in the victory He won for us on the cross and through the resurrection.
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission